9th April 2011

I have often been sent pictures of cars and bikes from way back when about which I had absolutely no idea of name, rider/driver, engine, etc, etc.  Cue an e-mail with attachments to Nick Pettitt with a request for help!  It never seemed to matter how obscure the vehicle was he almost always new something about it.  Little wonder that I have frequently referred to him on the site as a 'drag racing guru'.

Well it seems that he has eventually tired of my constant invasions of his privacy so he has written a book on the subject, and I am fortunate enough to have been sent a copy for review.

'British Drag Racing - the early years' is quite simply 92 pages of excellent pictures accompanied by well written and highly informative text arranged in chronological order.

After some acknowledgements and an introduction it starts off with a chapter describing  events in the fledgling sport between 1960 and 1965.  The majority of this chapter is devoted to the two International Drag Festivals but there is a wealth of additional information from this period as well.

There then follow four chapters dealing with 1966 (the year Santa Pod opened), 1967, 1968 and 1969.  They each contain incredible amounts of detail concerning developments in the sport, the drivers and riders and their respective vehicles, and accounts of the meetings which were held.

This book has been meticulously researched and is written in a very engaging style.  What surprised me was how I started reading about times and speeds, which would be absolutely pedestrian by today's standards, but because Nick has placed them in the context of the time I began to appreciate the steps forward in performance that were made by the early racers.

In summary - an entertaining read and a superb work of reference all wrapped up in one package.  If you want to learn about the early days of drag racing buy this book.

Alan Currans

28th February 2011

Well I now know the book is a physical reality as I found an advance copy on the door mat last week.  I must say I am more than pleased with how it’s turned out, the 40-50 year old photos and slides look great in print and are full of detail.  Veloce received ten advance copies, the other nine going to various magazines and web sites for reviews both here and in the USA.  Pulling the holeshot on everyone was Tog who read the book and had penned a review for Eurodragster that same evening!

This time last year I had just got the OK from Veloce and that now seems like a long time ago.  Some of my original ideas for the book changed as it took shape and I hope all that see it will be pleased with the result. Everyone who has eyeballed my copy so far has given the thumbs up and if you’re in the vicinity of the NSRA Swap Meet at Essex Arena this Sunday, look me up on the Time Travel DVDs stand and I’ll give you a quick peek at my dog-eared copy.


8th February 2011

I knew there was something I needed to do then Alan reminded me I hadn’t updated the blog for a while so here we go . . .

November came and went, no layouts arrived, then mid December it all started happening, in fact the whole book came through at once.  No problem, I didn’t have anything to do in December, well I did now.  The first thing I noticed was some of the pictures didn’t correspond with the text and needed moving, especially those from ’64 which had spilled into ’63 and ’65 but a bit of juggling around had them fixed.  Then I noticed the image cropping. When I submitted the pictures I had included crop positions but had since received an email from Veloce asking if some of the picturess could be left un-cropped as they wanted to include the “historically significant” backgrounds which was fine by me until I saw that most of the pictures were now un-cropped and there’s only so many times you want to look at those well-weathered stone-filled wooden box barriers that lined Santa Pod’s blacktop in the sixties.  I’ve ended up with a compromise re-cropping some of the pictures and leaving others with all the period dressed people and classic support vehicles in the background as they are.

There were a few tweaks and corrections needed to the text and Veloce had a few questions about some of the
“draggin” terminology I had used. I’m pleased to say they now know exactly what an AA/Fuel Dragster is.  Then came the index which I’d been looking forward to doing and had estimated as taking a day to complete from “AC” to “Zodiac” but five days later I was still at it . . .

The completed amendments and index were on their way to the printers by mid January so I’m now anxiously waiting to see the first advanced copy. Release date for the book at the moment is 15th March.


11th September 2010

Phew what manic couple of weeks!

The book is now at Veloce Publishing delivered on time after a last minute thrash.  I never realised how time consuming it would be labelling photos, negs, slides, magazine covers, digital images etc, printing the hard copy, putting it all on discs, marking where the pics need to be in the text etc etc.  Then I decided I'd change a few things, ho hum.......  No matter it's done now, I delivered it in person, met the boss Rod Grainger who showed real enthusiasm for the book, looking through all the images with great interest and recalling the time he visited the Pod and witnessed Slam'n Sammy blasting off into a dot.

What happens now?  "....that's it till November when we start the layout" Rod told me.  So looks like I've got a couple of months off, which is good as I have over a thousand pics to go on my website and another DVD to finish!

I can now reveal the cover, this is version 5 and pretty much how it's going to look.  Full praise to Mike Collins who came up with the cover layout and pictures which I think packs a powerful punch.  Talking of pics I'm now using a combination of both colour and b&w in the book, some of Mike's b&w images are too good to pass up, and Brian Sparrow's shoe box full of b&w photos turned up some real gems too.  The difficulty was keeping the image count down to 100 with so many great shots to choose from.  The same problem developed with the word count as it soon became apparent I'd written far too many and getting them down to 15,000 was a daunting task.....

Here's one of Brian Sparrow's pics which didn't make the book showing one of the dragsters entered at the 2nd BHRA Big Go in 1965.  Team Dafydd brought it along from Wales but sadly it never made it past scrutineering. Based on Ford Pop chassis rails with a flathead V8 it was reminiscent of the early '50s American dragsters which were called "Rail Jobs" later shortened to "Rails" a name that has stuck to this day.... 


17th June 2010

Here's an update on my book which I'm pleased to say has been progressing well over the last couple of months.

I've been collecting info from some of the people involved in the sport in the 1960s and was delighted to bump into Dennis Priddle at the Main Event as one thing that's been bugging me is Tudor Rose II.  Different people had told me contrasting stories about it and it was good to ask Dennis who not only confirmed one of my theories but also told me some extra interesting facts about the car's construction and a neat idea he'd incorporated into the chassis.

Also at the Main Event was Ken "Flathead" Cooper who as always had a few amusing stories to tell from the '60s including some pertaining to Captain Tom Hales' pipe and Mrs Taylor's Tea Bar.

Last Sunday saw me heading up to Tylers Green to spend a pleasant afternoon with Brian Sparrow.  Not only did he help with a few questions about the sport's beginnings in the UK but we went through his extensive drag racing archive.  I left with a shoe box crammed with photos from the '60s and a grin from ear to ear.

A few weeks back the phone rang and it was Mike Collins who'd read this very blog and was kindly offering to add some Rock & Roll to the book.  Before you could say "Colt 45" a T-Bird was pulling up outside my house and an unmistakable gum chewing, mustachioed figure complete with shades was climbing out.  It was great to talk to Mike as most of the race reports I'm using for my research were originally written by him and he remembers each race in vivid detail as if it was yesterday.  I've always admired Mike's unique style of writing and he still pens a monthly news item called Armchair Driving on the American Autoparts website which is syndicated through ampar.com and well worth a look.


20th April 2010

Your webmaster Alan kindly asked me if I'd like to write a blog for my book so here we go with the first instalment.....

The publisher is Veloce Publishing (www.veloce.co.uk) and the book will be in their "Those were the days..." series with 15,000 words and 100 pictures.

It's still early days and there's no cover artwork to show you yet or even a title but I can tell you it will be out around February 2011 and will feature British Drag Racing in the 1960s.

I've always been interested in this period of our sport even though I never got to any race meetings back then (I'm far too young) and could only read about it in magazine back issues.  All the pictures in these magazines were black and white and colour pictures from this period have remained a rarity.  Over the years I've amassed a collection of colour slides taken by fans and racers at the time both scenes in the pits and action shots and will be using 100 of these slides to illustrate my book.

The first chapter will cover the early '60s including the formation of the British Hot Rod Association in 1960, the Allard dragster, the first British drag race at Duxford, the International Dragfests, and John Bennett's historic announcement at the 1965 BHRA AGM that Podington airfield would be open for business as Santa Pod Raceway in 1966.

Chapter Two will cover Santa Pod's first season which started and finished with rain but had some great sunny meetings in between including the American Commandos' visit and the first British Drag Racing Championships which featured handicapping for the first time.  Not everybody was happy about this when the 1966 Dragster Championship trophy went to a 500cc Rudge-powered machine.

Chapter Three covers 1967 which saw more and more competitors and fans turning up at Santa Pod and by mid-season the Densham, Billinton, Phelps team wheeled out the beautiful Commuter AA/Fuel dragster for it's first runs.  At the end of the year roundy-round racer John Woolfe turned up at the Pod with his 427 Cobra to see what draggin' was all about and when he got shutdown by the Hustler team's small block Chevy-powered BSA Altered he asked them how quick it would go with his 427 Ford in it.  He was told it would perform well but would go even quicker with an L88 427 Chevy.  The next year saw Hustler with John Woolfe Racing written down the sides and a shiny new Rat between the frame rails.

Chapter Four and 1968 which saw British dragsters heading for the eights as Commuter was joined by Clive Skilton in the Allard/Skilton dragster which ran an oh-so-close 9.005 before blowing in Sweden, and from the West Country Rex Sluggett and Dennis Priddle turned up with their Keith Black-powered Tudor Rose.  The air was filled with the sweet smell of nitro at the 1968 Championships when both Commuter and Tudor Rose were running nitro in their tanks and the fans were treated to side by side eights for the first time.

The last chapter covers 1969 which looked promising when Sluggett and Priddle rolled out a new super-long Tudor Rose II at the BDR&HRA show in January built to run straight through the sevens and into the sixes but sadly a spilt in the partnership meant it never ran.  Commuter kept the AA/Fuel fans happy getting down to an 8.22, while Skilton got the rebuilt Allard/Skilton fueller back out but never managed an eight despite tipping the can.

I'll be trying to mention as many cars running at the time as possible in the book especially from the Dragster and Altered divisions, and detail the many home-made parts used when American Speed Equipment was scarce and racers made do with whatever they could find like Mini oil pumps as fuel injection pumps, brake bleed nipples as injectors and aircraft magnesium wheels instead of Halibrands.  Some of the Street cars will be covered as well as a few bikes but it will be mainly four-wheeled competition machines. I'll also be explaining the layout of Santa Pod and the changes that took place there through the sixties.

Nick Pettitt





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